A good plot twist can make or break a movie. The plot twist is a device that only becomes more relevant as time goes on, because it’s predicated on subverting the audience’s expectation of a story. As we become more accustomed to the traditional trajectory of a story, it’s easier to appreciate subversions of it.
Plot twists can easily go wrong, of course. For every “I am your father,” there’s a “My sister has it – it’s you, Leia.” The past decade has seen a bunch of fascinating plot twists shock moviegoers. So, here are the ten best movie plot twists of the decade, ranked. It should also go without saying, but there are spoilers ahead.
10 La La Land: Sebastian and Mia didn’t end up together
Damien Chazelle majorly subverted expectations with his Golden Age-inspired musical La La Land. With its ambiguous place in history, its mixture of musical styles, and its unconventional love story, La La Land wowed audiences in 2016, so much so that it went on to (albeit mistaken) Oscar glory.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are established as a couple that we want to see work out their problems, despite the string of terrible incidents that beset them. At the film’s end, when we’d normally see the romantic leads in happily-ever-after mode, we see Mia with a totally different guy. They visit Sebastian’s jazz bar and imagine a life they could’ve had together.
9 Gone Girl: Amy staged her own kidnapping
David Fincher’s movie adaptation of Gone Girl adds a couple of twists that weren’t there in Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel. But he still retained the best parts of the source material (partly because he got Flynn herself to adapt it).
Just like in the book, Amy Dunne is revealed to have faked her own kidnapping. She returns home and convinces the media that she managed to escape her captor, Neil Patrick Harris, and is pregnant with Nick’s child, forcing him to stay married to her. Both the book and the movie have a really dark, harrowing ending, befitting of Fincher’s style.
8 Spider-Man — Far From Home: Peter's identity is revealed
The MCU’s 23-part “Infinity Saga” came to a conclusion this summer with Spider-Man: Far From Home. The movie’s mid-credits scene brought along a bombshell plot twist that was almost topped by the post-credits reveal that Nick Fury had been a Skrull the whole time.
The mid-credits rug-pull still takes the top spot, as the Daily Bugle releases altered footage that frames Spider-Man for Mysterio’s attack on London – making him a terrorist in the public’s eyes – and then reveals his secret identity to be Peter Parker. Spidey’s world comes crashing down around him in an instant. Fans can’t wait for the threequel to explain everything.
7 Searching: The real culprit is the detective's son
Detective Rosemary Vick was reportedly named after the lead character in Rosemary’s Baby and Michael Chiklis’ tough-as-nails cop Vic Mackey from FX’s The Shield. The latter makes a lot of sense, because like Mackey, Vick is corrupt, bending the rules based on her own personal agenda.
When David Kim’s daughter Margot goes missing in this curious thriller told entirely through screens, Vick takes on the case. Right at the end of the movie, when David discovers that Vick volunteered to take on the case, he pieces together the clues and realizes she botched the investigation on purpose to protect the perpetrator, her own son.
6 Widows: Liam Neeson's character faked his death
The premise of Steve McQueen’s Widows — a movie that masterfully blends bombastic Hollywood action with more contemplative social themes and strong character development — deceived us. We were told it was the story of the wives of a gang of criminals who died in a police sting, who come together to pull off a heist in order to pay off their late husbands’ debts to a crime lord.
However, halfway through the movie, it’s revealed that Veronica’s (Viola Davis) husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), faked his own death and survived the explosion in the opening scene. He’s intentionally screwing over his unsuspecting wife.
5 Us: The Truth About Adelaide
Both of Jordan Peele’s movies are included on this list, because when he gave us two of the best horror movies in recent memory, they came along with two of the best plot twists in recent memory for good measure.
At the end of Us, as Adelaide goes down into the underground tunnels that the Tethered clones came from to save her son Alex from Red, it’s revealed that in the opening scene, the real Adelaide’s Tethered clone replaced her, stealing her life and stranding her in the tunnels to eat rabbit for two decades. In the film’s closing moments, Alex gives Adelaide a look like he knows what she did.
4 Arrival: Louise’s daughter’s death has yet to happen
With Arrival, his film adaptation of the short story “Story of Your Life,” Denis Villeneuve proved that a movie about aliens landing on Earth doesn’t need to involve cities getting decimated or the White House getting blown up. When alien pods show up around the planet in Arrival, a lingual expert named Louise, played by Amy Adams, is brought in to figure out what their language means.
As it turns out, the aliens’ language is a means of changing people’s perception of time, showing them “flashbacks” of future events. So, in a heartbreaking and beautiful twist, we discover that the scenes we saw of Louise’s daughter’s terminal illness haven’t actually happened yet.
3 Avengers — Infinity War: Thanos Wins
In every superhero movie, the villain describes an insane plan that the heroes have to thwart, and by the end of the movie, the heroes usually triumph over the villain and this plan is forgotten about. All throughout Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos announced his plan to collect all six Infinity Stones, snap his fingers, and wipe out half of all life in the universe.
And at the end of the movie, despite Earth’s mightiest heroes’ best efforts to stop him, that’s exactly what he does. The movie had initially been announced as the first part of a two-part film, but Marvel reversed this decision and made it a standalone piece. It doesn’t have a cliffhanger; it has a definitive ending where the villain, for the first time, beats the Avengers.
2 Get Out: The truth about Rose's family
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out hit audiences like a socially relevant truck back in 2017. The story of a black photographer heading to an isolated suburban community to meet his white girlfriend’s family was an excellent conduit for Peele to explore complex racial issues in today’s society through the lens of a Stepford Wives-esque “social thriller.”
One of the greatest feats achieved by Peele’s screenplay is making Rose look innocent. Her parents are immediately conspicuous, but she seems just as clueless as Chris. When Rose reveals that she’s in cahoots with her family, it sets in that Chris is really trapped.
1 Shutter Island: The U.S. Marshal is actually an asylum patient
Martin Scorsese isn’t the kind of director make a horror film, but when he did make a horror film, it was fantastic. Shutter Island begins with Leonardo DiCaprio’s U.S. Marshal character Teddy Daniels arriving at an asylum on a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a patient. He’s plagued by flashbacks to a tragic home life and experiences during the war.
At the end of the movie, as his investigation leads him to a lighthouse, Teddy learns that he isn’t actually a U.S. Marshal, and that he’s a patient at the asylum himself that the staff have been indulging in an elaborate therapeutic experiment.